A lot of comic book storytelling is an art that is hard to quantify and distill into set rules. Some of the best analysis of this subjective art form has been written by master for the form Will Eisner in books such as Comics and Sequential Art, and by the great Scott McCloud in his seminal work Understanding Comics.
But rarely has there been anything as simple, and elegant as Wally Wood’s Panels that Always Work.
Wally Wood is one of the comic book greats of the 20th Century, and not much was known about the origins of this piece as it began circulating among comics professionals and fans, first in the form of photocopies and then on the internet.
In 1980, Wood’s original, three-page, 24-panel (not 22) work was published with the proper copyright notice to Wood, in The Wallace Wood Sketchbook (Crouch/Wood), but the most widely-distributed version of this work was an unauthorized one. Around 1982, Wood’s ex-assistant Larry Hama, by then an editor at Marvel Comics, pasted up photocopies of Wood’s copyrighted drawings on a single page, which Hama titled “Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work!!” Hama left out 2 of the original 24 panels as his photocopies were too faint to make out some of the lightest sketches. Hama distributed, what has been called, Wood’s “elegantly simple primer to basic storytelling,” to artists in the Marvel bullpen, who in turn passed them on to their friends and associates.
Wood’s “Panels That Always Work” is a trademark of, and is copyright, Wallace Wood Properties, LLC as listed by the United States Copyright Office which assigned the work Registration Number VA0001814764. The Wallace Wood Estate has released the ONLY official, authorized print of the work. Larry Hama appeared in support of the Estate’s official print, at the 2012 Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Aritst Rafael Kaynanan assembled 22 Panels Revisited, recreating the 22 examples with actual panels from Wally Wood’s completed comics work, rather than quick thumbnail sketches.
And finally, cartoonist and publisher Cheese Hasselberger created 22 Panels that Never Work, featuring… well you get the idea.